Sources said that while many companies collect personal data of similar nature by scraping open source platforms, given that this involves a Chinese firm which works with the military and security agencies, the government is concerned about the end use and the end user.
Taking note of The Indian Express investigation of a Shenzhen firm with links to the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party which is monitoring thousands of individuals, the Indian security establishment, directly dealing with cyber security, is evaluating the depth of data being collected and the risks it may pose to national security.
Top government officials said an assessment is being prepared for National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. “While the reports clearly state the scale of the operation, we are more concerned about its depth — to what level of detail the Chinese firm is profiling individuals in terms of data points, the financial investment in hardware facilitated by its partners, and the need for upgrading cyber hygiene at our end,” said a top official.
Simultaneously, the revelations are being discussed at the level of ministries concerned, including the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY), which has a specialised division on cyber laws and e-security. “We are analysing the scope of the operation. Since it involves the President and the Prime Minister, the political establishment has to take a call on what the government’s response should be,” said an official who did not wish to be named.
Sources said that while many companies collect personal data of similar nature by scraping open source platforms, given that this involves a Chinese firm which works with the military and security agencies, the government is concerned about the end use and the end user. “In itself, granular data may not be revelatory but tracked over a few years, 24 by 7, using sophisticated tools of analysis, open source data on an individual can be a great information asset. More so, if he or she is a top official or in a strategic setting,” said an official. “We need to go through the entire list and identify cyber hygiene issues.”
The Indian Express had on Monday reported that at least 10,000 Indian individuals and organisations from politics to business, judiciary to media, even crime accused, are being monitored real time online by big data firm Zhenhua Data that caters to the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army.